No two students are exactly alike. In a perfect world, we would treat each as an individual, but it’s not a perfect world. Most often, one teacher must guide twenty or more young people to find the path to success and understanding. For many of us that’s okay. Since, with the teacher’s guidance, we often assist in finding our own unique path to learning.

However, the student who falls increasingly behind in math will remain lost and unable to find his way out of a foreboding wilderness. It becomes increasingly confusing and eventually frightening. The only way back into the clearing and back on level will require blazing an individual path out of the confusion. And that cannot be done without individual guidance each step of the way.

Imagine a map of a thick forest. Three students are lost in the forest.

First, we have to locate the student. How far back has this student fallen? At which functional grade level are the student’s math skills? Is he two grade levels back? Three? Four? Once, we know how far back they are, we can begin to plot a unique path to math success for that student. Let’s say our three students have all fallen three grade levels back. They may all have an equal distance to go but each is in their own location in the forest. Each will move in different directions and have different stopping points on their way out. Finding each student’s individual skill gaps is the only way to plot a reliable path out of the forest. If they go in any other direction or make any other stops along the way it will delay their journey back and even possibly put them deeper into the woods.

Teachers need two things to help students out of the forest: 1. An assessment that finds each student’s position and plots their individual paths forward (think of it as a GPS correlated to state standards). 2. The best instructional content providing students with the individual skills to make their way out.